Be nice to a newbie...

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by customcreator, Dec 11, 2004.

  1. customcreator

    customcreator New Member

    Hey all, new guy here(please be kind). I haven't yet delved into the world of model railroading, but it's something that has interested me since a child. I have been customizing action figures for the past 2 years now, and I can't get rid of the nagging itch to set up a railroad. I would like to ask some general questions(you've probably heard them all 100 times) but here goes:

    1. Can you get away with a "cheap" set up? Not looking to cheese out, but not looking to empty my savings.

    2. What is the best/easiest scale to work in? Also, copper track or alloy(?) I hear alloy(not sure if that's what it's called) is far better.

    3. I have a folding table about 5ft long, and maybe 4 ft wide, is this sufficent enough to do a small setup?

    4. Do I build the setup directly on the table, or do I have to get some plywood to cover the table?

    5. What is the best “starter” setup? Should I buy pieces, or get a complete setup?

    6. How much actual “customizing” do the things like buildings/bridges, roads, sidewalks need? I know the skies the limit with a lot of these things, but basically? I’m not looking to build skyscrapers and such. I realize some building and painting, but other than that?

    7. How hard is it to make “levels” such as hills, lakes, forest, etc??

    8. Layout the tracks, and build around them, or vice versa?

    9. Good companies for supplies?

    10. Any special tools I may need?

    Thanks for all your help. I am very interested in creating some kind of smaller set up than I’ve seen so far, just to see if this is a hobby I want to fully get into. Thanks again!
  2. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!

    Hi there,
    Welcome aboard and welcome to one of the most enjoayble hobbies on earth! I'll take a shot at some of your questions and let others add their 2 cents.
    Choosing your scale is probably the most important first step. Your table will nicely accomodate N scale (1:160) if you're hoping to set up something where the trains can continuously run. HO (1:87) can work too but will give you a fairly small oval of track with maybe room for a turnout or two for sidings or spurs. Some folks here are making interesting micro layouts and may have ideas for smaller track plans to keep your interest in HO if you aren't intending to build a larger layout

    I think you may be talking about nickel silver rail as opposed to brass. Brass requires regular cleaning while the nickel silver oxidizes in a way that requires less.

    If you're planning to set up the track and trains temporarily then sure, you can put them directly on the table. If you want something more permanent then it will be good to create some sort of base for the layout. Plywood has been the traditional material although a lot of people are using foam sheets (not the white pebbly stuff but the pink or blue stuff that can be cut and shaped without as big a mess.)

    I haven't looked at packaged train sets for a long time. In the past they tended to carry inexpensive locomotives that didn't run particularly smoothly and they were often painted in a limited number of road names...sometimes with a nonmatching caboose.

    Engines are a get-what-you-pay-for thing but I've had success with Athearns locomotives costing around $35.

    That's a'll see lots more info on the forum. You might also think of purchasing a starter book about Model Railroading available at hobby shops. I've heard that this month's new Model Railroader magazine includes stuff about building a 4X8 layout in HO...a traditional starting point.

    Best wishes!
  3. Hey, CC...

    Welcome to The Gauge! When people start getting into the hobby, it seems as if something gets into the brain...something that gives people the impression that YOU MUST build a 4'X8' plywood platform for your MANDATORY oval track layout. Nor so. You can start out VERY small in this hobby. Take a look at N and HO scale locos at your local hobby shop (hereafter referred to as LHS ;) ). N scale is very popular because you can pack a lot of railroadin' into a small space. But is it too small to work on for you? If the scale is too small, look at HO. Again, HO scale is very popular and is a great mid-scale between the O scale stuff (Lionel size) and N scale. If you have enough space for a shelf, say 1.5' wide X 4' or 5' long, you're in business! A shelf layout can give you a small yard with some industrial buildings to switch cars around. You can operate a switcher or two, have some boxcars, build some buildings, and not feel pressured into filling up a sheet of plywood with tracks and scenery. You can practice your scenery interests, practice putting in track, rip out your mistakes, and not get killed financially. won't be running long coal drags or passenger trains through mountainous terrain and through sweeping curves, but you have to start out small and affordable. One mistake that new comers to the hobby make is trying to fit their railroad interests into their available space. This is where your space only allows tight curves of track and you try to run long, large locomotives around them. If your space is limited, model something that can operate in a small space. A small 'L' shaped shelf layout can be just great for a logging operation, a mining operation, a yard switching layout with some industries, etc. When your space allows for growth, you can incorporate your little layout into the larger layout design. Don't fall into the big-trains-in-a- little-space trap. Model what will fit into your space...that way you can start small and grow...not start big and then have to shrink. I have a half basement to work with, but I have no intention to fill it up with a railroad. Part of the space has to be workbench, desk, and storage area, too. I'm essentially going to build an 'L' shaped layout with switching operations as the main feature. There's a number of books out there that can help you, too. Good luck!

    Russ :wave:
  4. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!

    Yep, Russ is right, don't be afraid to think outside of the oval box! :)
  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    If you're just starting and haven't overly committed to your initial mistake (!), you can sample the different scales. Instaed of buying a train set, get a kit in each scale and put it together. See how it feels. You can sell the ones you don't need later. A set of buildings will give you something, as you can put small ones in the background.
    See if you can say what attracted you to model railroading. This will give you an idea of how you want to go. Do you want to watch the local train pushing cars into the auto factory or coal mine, or do you want to see the Super Chief blazing across the plains?
    Look through the gauge. We have threads that cover just about anything. Check the Scenery and the Techniques forums.
    Cover your table? depends on how attached you are to the surface, and how hard the surface is to work with.
  6. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    Welcome to The Gauge :wave: (as he beats shaygetz's rookie munching alter-ego "Crankpin" into it's cage) :eek: :p ;) :thumb:
  7. ddavidv

    ddavidv Member

    The general rule is avoid pre-packaged train sets like they contain the plague. Nothing will turn you off faster than a loco that doesn't work half the time, and the train 'sets' usually contain the cheapest garbage made. My suggestion? If you can determine what scale you want to try (and a visit to the LHS will be beneficial here), go to Ebay and buy a 'lot' of track, cars or whatever. Buy one good new loco at the LHS. Use only nickel silver track (do not buy brass). You can buy a good power pack on Ebay as well (anything made by MRC is generally good). This will keep your initial investment low. If you decide the scale/era/loco/whatever isn't to your liking, you can put any or all of it back on Ebay and recoup most or all of your investment (or maybe turn a profit!). ;)
    Without question, HO provides the widest variety of everything. However, I chose N due to it's smaller size (I can pack more into a small area) and I feel it's more challenging, since I can't just order everything from the Walthers catalog (scratch building is fun). The biggest negative to N for a lot of folks is simply getting those tiny wheels on the rails, but they make nifty little 'ramps' that remove this headache. :cool:
    Model RR-ing is touted as the "world's greatest hobby" and I tend to agree...there's something for everyone. Lots of excellent books (check your local may be surprised) to help you get going too.
  8. Fred_M

    Fred_M Guest

    While the warning about packaged train sets was true in the past I have been noticing this Christmas that Lifelike had been putting out some nice packages in HO anyway. They are packing a Proto 1000 set and another set called Metal which look real nice. Both are in the $150 to $200 range. Fred
  9. Alan B

    Alan B Member

    Forget the oval unless you want to bored very quickly, or if you like really small, Z scale, modeling. In a 5'x4' space, i would suggest a horseshoe shaped switching layout. Put a divider down the middle and you have two separate switching scenes. However, if you have the space for a 5'x4' table, you probably have at least a 9'x8' room. If the walls aren't otherwise in use, build around the walls. Build your benchwork only 18" wide and you can have a very nice layout.

    Track, I prefer Atlas nickel silver track.

    Switches, I prefer Peco, but the Atlas switches are also good. Again, use the nickel silver.

    Elevation changes are easy, use extruded foam insulation. For more than an inch, glue two of them together and cut to fit. Woodland Scenics makes risers to allow your track to change elevations if that's what you want.

    Structures, Look in the Walthers Catalog it has a wealth of information. Customizing can be done with paint and decals, or you can scratch build. I am in the process of building an HO scale modern convenience store with a canopy and lights. It's all done with card stock and details from the back of the Walthers Catalog and some electrical goodies from Radio Shack.

    Tools depend on the modeler. I have some small files I bought from Sears. I have a soldering iron and solder I bought from Radio Shack. I have an airbrush from Harbor Freight and an air tank from Sears. Among the general carpentry tools that seem to have a lot of use in the modeling world, straight edges, rules, and squares. Of course there are specialized tools for Kadee couplers that are good to have.
  10. TR-Flyer

    TR-Flyer Member

    Another scale worth considering is 1/64th scale modelling, or "S" gauge. This is sized between HO (1:87) and O (1:43). It was made popular after WWII by the AC Gilbert Company with their American Flyer line of equipment. The name is now owned by Lionel and they have begun to reissue quite a bit of nice equipment. Also, S-Helper and American Models build some very fine ready to run equipment that is scale in size and detail. There are over two hundred providers of s-gauge equipment now a days and the scale is enjoying a bit of a renaissance.

    Getting an S-gauge layout on a 4 x 5 table top will restrict you to a small oval with a short siding or two or perhaps a switching operation just showing a yard or industrial area. One way to overcome this limitation is to see if there is a modular railroading club in your area. This works well for any guage by the way. The N-Trak system is really neat and has a wide following.

    In a modular club each member builds a module, size varies but usually 48-inches long by 24, 30, or 36-inches deep. There are standards for the location of interface tracks between the modules but ususally beyond the basics you can do pretty much what you want to do with your modules. Then, you get together with the other members at a club owned or rented site and set up your modules together to make an operating layout. Some clubs just set up at shows and run their layouts for the public.

    This is how i run my trains. I don't have room for an S-gauge layout at my house, so i run trains with other club members at shows. This way, i get to play with a 30' x 50' layout and i only had to build 16' foot of it.

    Whatever you choose, do it because it looks like fun to you. The world you are going to create is yours and yours alone.

  11. customcreator

    customcreator New Member

    I am leaning towards the "N" gauge. I did some surfing last night, and liked the size. I am not looking to get into railroading 100%. I would like to have a nice little setup to run, and work on whenever. I imagine when I get more room, I can always add to it. I am thinking of doing a military ammo yard scenario. Having tanks and jeeps on flatbeds, and missles and such. Whichever train I buy will be painted in Army colors. I am looking to do diesel, not steam. I have many hobbies, and know right now I cannot devote myself to just trains. Thanks for your advice, keep ideas coming.

    PS:Who makes the best N gauge stuff??
  12. docsnavely

    docsnavely Member

    IMHO, Kato is the supreme N-gauge supplier. I may be biased since I am in Japan, but the kato name is well known in the US as well. Since you (like myself) are just begining, the kato-unitrack is awesome. It is made with the track bed and track as one piece, and is designed for easy assembly and disassembly if you want to break down your layout, or redesign it. There are other suppliers who make track like this, but from most of the people I talk to, kato is the most dependable. As for actual rolling stock and engines and such, I am not the one to comment on those. Don't forget though, don't rely on just one person's opinion. If you are going to invest some money into this, get as much info as possible from forums like this. There are tons of archived threads on this forum that can provide a wealth of info! Most importantly, HAVE FUN!!:thumb:

  13. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    If you are interested in a military railroad, HO might be the way to go--there is an absolute boatload of HO scale tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, etcetera, available off the shelf, for just about anything operated by American or European armed forces from the 1930's on. In N scale, I think there are a couple of tanks.

    HO is also relatively close to a lot of the "HO/OO" scale plastic military miniature sets available at model hobby shops. Some lines of military models are done in 1:76 scale or OO, which is a little large for HO but close enough to fit--similarly, 15mm military miniatures are a little small but are acceptable.

    If you are interested in World War II era modeling (which included the earliest diesels as well as steam) there are kits available for WWII era Pullman military troop trains, and plenty of WWII armor. If you prefer the modern era, larger modern flatcars can carry Bradleys and HMMWV's and maybe even M1's (one reason for the M1's width measurement was that it would fit through standard European railroad tunnels!)

    The Walthers catalog (available at pretty much any hobby shop) has a miltiary section, including vehicles (from motorcycles to helicopters) as well as buildings (hangars, barracks, bunkers, etc.) and miniatures.

    Taking a look online can be helpful, but try actually checking out the sizes of trains at a hobby shop so you can see and feel the difference in sizes before you make a decision.

    As to your questions:

    1. Can you get away with a "cheap" set up? Not looking to cheese out, but not looking to empty my savings.

    As mentioned above, don't get a cheapo trainset. These run like junk and will end up being a big headache. You can get a comfortable middle range by going with Athearn or Atlas, or slightly better Athearn Genesis, Bachmann Spectrum or Life-Like Proto 2000 equipment.

    2. What is the best/easiest scale to work in? Also, copper track or alloy(?) I hear alloy(not sure if that's what it's called) is far better.

    HO has the most stuff available and is generally the cheapest--it is also the most common. Nickel-silver track is what is generally available--brass track generally isn't sold anymore in stores, because, also as mentioned above, brass oxidizes far more quickly and doesn't look as good.

    3. I have a folding table about 5ft long, and maybe 4 ft wide, is this sufficent enough to do a small setup?

    It's sufficient for a basic loop, but you don't have to have a loop. Sometimes a long shelf layout can be a lot more fun if you're not dead set on watching trains go around and around.

    4. Do I build the setup directly on the table, or do I have to get some plywood to cover the table?

    Most folks don't start with a pre-made table--you can set up track directly on the table just to try things out, but generally you'll want a layout platform that you can cut into, paint, and otherwise corrupt with impunity without sacrificing the structural integrity of your table.

    5. What is the best “starter” setup? Should I buy pieces, or get a complete setup?

    If by "complete setup" you mean "toy train set", no. Besides, you're generally going to have the best time by buying just what you need and not having to toss stuff you don't need later.

    6. How much actual “customizing” do the things like buildings/bridges, roads, sidewalks need? I know the skies the limit with a lot of these things, but basically? I’m not looking to build skyscrapers and such. I realize some building and painting, but other than that?

    There are kits for all skill levels. Some are super-simple affairs that practically snap together, and if you're used to building models they will be no sweat. Others are more elaborate, and require higher levels of skill, but producing more realistic end products. If you're not too sure of your modeling abilities or just starting out, go for a basic plastic kit or three--later you can try your hand at a "craftsman" kit, or scratchbuilding.

    7. How hard is it to make “levels” such as hills, lakes, forest, etc??

    Not too hard--foam is a commonly used material for scenery, as it is light and easy to work with. There are a lot of books on how to do scenery and many approaches that can be taken. It can be fairly simple or very elaborate--how elaborate is really up to you.

    8. Layout the tracks, and build around them, or vice versa?

    Generally folks have a plan of what they want to build in mind ahead of time, and follow that plan. Typically construction goes as follows: benchwork (the table), roadbed (that which supports the tracks), tracklaying (the tracks), wiring (supplying the power), scenery (mountains and valleys), scenery details (trees, grass, rivers, etc.), structures (buildings), and scenic details (people, vehicles, etc.)

    9. Good companies for supplies? is pretty much the bible for model railroaders, but there is also a company named Athearn, owned by Horizon Hobby, that carries a lot of excellent starter stuff.

    10. Any special tools I may need?

    If you're already into modeling you probably have most of the basics: X-Acto knives, razor saw, scale ruler, mini files, paintbrushes, glues (plastic cement, "super glue", Walthers Goo), pin vise and miniature drill bits, miniature screwdrivers (for working on rolling stock), tweezers, soldering iron, miniature clamps for holding parts...
  14. XavierJ123

    XavierJ123 Member

    An army of one----

    Whew! Are you totally confused? My first thought was N gauge also; what with your small table or lack of room. I think the guys have given you enough information as to what to buy. Perhaps some thought should be given to what aspect of the hobby you would enjoy the most. For me it is making mountains; big mountains. For you it could be the military aspect. I built an N gauge layout once where I focused on mountains, tunnels and bridges. I think you would enjoy air brushing camoflauge paint on your military railroad trains, military vehicles, etc. How bout a camoflauge net over some artillery piece? That would be cool. (Oh yeal, I almost forgot. You will need a false bottom to hide your electrical wiring for your layout. A sheet of plywood framed with 1X2s underneath to raise it above your small table. Now you can drill the holes for your wiring without damaging your table and it will be more portable this way--no legs to contend with. )

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